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Published: Tuesday, 4/14/2009

Ohio House school-funding plan reduces money districts can get from Gov. proposal

ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBUS, Ohio The Ohio House plans to unveil a major revision of Gov. Ted Strickland's school-funding plan Wednesday that significantly reduces how much money districts can get under a new formula.

The governor's plan has been criticized for allocating more state money to many wealthy districts, while some poor districts were to get less. Strickland, a Democrat from Appalachia, has said he is working to fix the problem.

Ohio's school funding system has repeatedly been declared unconstitutional for relying too heavily on property taxes. Strickland pledged to fix the system while campaigning for governor in 2006.

The House plan will reduce a limit on gains in state assistance from 16 percent under Strickland's plan to just under 2 percent, said House spokesman Keary McCarthy.

"We're bringing it down from the original proposal in an effort to ensure that we have an equitable distribution of state resources to the places where students have the greatest need," he said.

The governor's plan and the House's do not differ on a proposal to reduce the amount districts must contribute to the state from local sources. But the Democrat-led House is expected to propose phasing that change in over six years, rather than over two, as the governor proposed.

Both changes will pick up revenue needed for House lawmakers working to balance the budget. They are trying to make up for $922 million in federal stimulus money that Strickland's budget office originally called for distributing through the new state formula.

McCarthy said the federal government has confirmed what Strickland's critics had said: The stimulus funds can't be used that way and must be distributed using federal guidelines.

"We're going to be pulling that out of the funding model, and I think still being able to provide some positive gains in state share to school districts," McCarthy said.

The House plan would also increase the average annual teacher salary the figure that is used to help calculate how much the state gives to school districts from $45,000 to closer to $54,000. The higher number was recommended as more accurate in a recent analysis by the KnowledgeWorks Foundation.

Teacher unions had complained that Strickland's plan underestimated the cost of paying teachers by about 20 percent, leaving schools underfunded by nearly $1 billion.

In intensive negotiations that continued Tuesday, the House was also considering eliminating new minimums proposed by Strickland for school nurses and counselors charged with encouraging more family engagement in school life.

McCarthy said new district breakdowns would be available at a news conference Wednesday.



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